Lady and the tramp

The latest allegations against Winnie Madikizela-Mandela have brought a curious and contradictory figure to prominence in South Africa, the British life peer, Dame Emma Nicholson.

Nicholson has been the subject of much controversy and some merriment in the United Kingdom, since crossing the floor of the House of Commons to join the Liberal Democrats in December 1995. Much of the merriment was over an indignant claim she made — in puffing a book she wrote about the horrors of life in the Conservative Party — that John Major had once made a pass at her.

Major flirted with me on sofa trumpeted the headline in the mass-circulation Daily Mirror. MP Emma tells of chat-up in office. In the accompanying story Nicholson recounted how the prime minister had invited her to his office in the Commons where, instead of discussing politics with her, he had asked her the name of her perfume. I was incredibly angry, she recalled.

The apparent naivety of the former Tory MP was on display again in Cape Towns Bay Hotel this week when Nicholson launched Katizas Journey, the account of the travails and travels of the missing witness in the Winnie scandal, Katiza Cebekhulu.

Asked whether Cebekhulu could be considered a reliable witness Nicholson told the assembled reporters, loftily: Experience has taught me to believe the victim, forgetting that the victim she was talking about was a petty thief who had joined in the battering of the murdered youth, Stompie Sepei.

The book was written by a former Sunday Telegraph correspondent in South Africa, Fred Bridgland. But — again curiously — the frontispiece records that copyright is held by Nicholson. Nonetheless, Nicholson appeared ill-acquainted with the contents of the book, denying it suggested Nelson Mandela had been part of a cover-up involving Cebekhulu.

In fact the book claims that Zambian state documents appeared to show that Mandela asked Kenneth Kaunda to detain Cebekhulu. When this was pointed out to Nicholson, and she was asked whether she had read the documents, she refused to answer.

Nicholson denied she was receiving any share of the royalties. But she went on, confusingly, to say: Additional funding is going to a charity to assist other African refugees. She added: Katiza said from the beginning that he wanted to help other people who found themselves in a similar plight.

That disclosure represents a considerable volte-face where Cebekhulus charitable instincts are concerned. Katizas Journey records how, at one point in his career as a petty thief, he stole 50c from a blind beggars tin cup.

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